Archive | September, 2011

Yemenis still reject people living with HIV

27 Sep

By: Malak Shaher, Yemen Times

Four years ago when the AIDS Association was established in Al-Raqas neighborhood, stones were thrown at the building, said Ali Al-Alkami, a social activist at the association.

The people of Yemen need an awareness campaign, explained Al-Alkami, because they still reject people living with HIV. They believe that HIV and AIDS are transmitted through illegal sex, forbidden in Islam.

On Monday, Progressio and USAIDS held a workshop on HIV and AIDS and the rights of people living with the virus, with 25 participants from the private sector and the government.

“One of the impacts of AIDS worldwide – other than the infection – is the stigma and the discrimination that affects the social integrity of that person,” said Wondimu Guyassa, Progressio coordinator in Yemen.

“HIV is not only a problem of health but it is also a social problem.”

Progressio is a health organization that started its work in Yemen in 1974, expanding into the field of HIV and AIDS in 2005.

HIV is not transferred through social contact, shaking hands, living together, eating from the same dish, going to school or working together and playing, said Dr. Sameer Jubari, a coordinator from the Interaction Company for Development, which works with the UNHCR.

He explained that HIV can only be transmitted through direct interaction with infected blood, vaginal fluids or semen, or through breast feeding.

An earlier workshop was conducted for preachers in mosques in order to spread awareness to fight the stigma against those living with HIV.

“HIV is not only a health problem in Yemen, it is also related to the society, as Yemenis reject infected people and ignore the fact that these young people are still part of society and can be productive,” said Fawzya Gharama, UNAIDS representative in Yemen. “We should not neglect these people since the more people that hide their infection, the greater the increase of infected people in Yemen.”

The first HIV case appeared in Yemen in 1987 and the number of the people with HIV is now approaching 3,000, according to the World Health Organization.

In 2009, the Yemeni parliament approved a law to protect the rights of people living with HIV.

“However, the law is not practiced and people with HIV are not treated well by their society,” said Sheikh Jabri Ibrahim from the Ministry of Endowments who took part in the workshop.

In Yemen Almost 80 percent of women get the virus from their husbands and a large number of those women are prevented from visiting a hospital because of the stigma of having HIV, according to Ibrahim.

Some 17 associations have been established in Yemen to help people with HIV – the AIDS Association in Al-Raqas neighborhood is one of them with other three branches in the governorates of Aden, Hadramout and Hodaida, according to Al-Alkami.

They are currently dealing with 380 HIV cases, he said, most of which are people abandoned by their families and societies once they were discovered to have the infection.

The head of the association Fu’ad Al-Sabri mentioned the case of a family – a husband and his wife – who were rejected from their neighborhood after they were found to have the virus. They moved into another area, but people from their previous neighborhood told the couple’s new neighbors, continuing the stigma they faced.


President calls for presidential, parliamentary and local elections

27 Sep

Malak ShaherPublished:27-09-2011, Yemen Times

SANA’A, Sept. 25 — On his first speech after returning from his medical visit to Saudi Arabia,  came back from Saudi Arabia, President Ali Abdulla Saleh emphasized once more his will to transfer power but only through elections.

“This time I add to the Gulf Initiative requirement of presidential elections, to have parliamentary and even local elections,” he said in his recorded televised speech marking the 49th anniversary of the 26th September revolution.

Despite anticipation that Saleh would shed light on progress in the political dialogue or the way forward for Yemen, he limited his speech to thanking the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE among other ‘partners’ for their support to Yemen whether in terms of fighting terrorism or supporting his regime one way or another.

Addressing the current armed conflict in Yemen, Saleh condemned the killing and blamed the defecting generals, Al-Ahmar tribal family and the opposition coalition of the Joint Meeting Parties of causing the deaths of citizens.

“We call all the wise people to review their attitudes and to learn from what is happening,” he said.

Saleh added that results of the investigation into his attempted assassination on June 3rd will be reveled soon. And condemned more than once the islamists calling them Al-Qaeda and supporters of Al-Qaeda.

Although not revealing much, many Yemenis somehow anticipated that Saleh will not be announcing his resignation or that he is letting go of power although he did mention that the decree authorizing his deputy to negotiate and sign a deal with the opposition is still valid.

The Saudi newspaper; Okadh,anticipated in its recent issue that President Saleh would suggest solutions for the situation among which was conducting early elections before the end of his term in 2013

Abdulla Abu Al-Ghaith, professor at Sana’a University said that the gulf initiative is the only solution for Yemen’s crises.  Al-Ghaith said that the only way the initiative would be implemented is only if Saleh is able to overcome pressure from his own family who are not eager to let go of power.

Muhammad Al-Nuwaira, a Yemeni citizen loyal to the regime agreed with the rhetoric of the president saying that the only solution for Yemen is when the wise men in the political parties put Yemen’s stability as the priority.

“We do not want more killing from any side,”  he said.

However, Change Square protestors in Sana’a disagree and see that Saleh is being Saleh and that he is just wasting time.

“It is getting very violent and some protestors especially those from tribal areas who are used to carrying arms might be tempted to using force to get achieve their aims if Saleh does not allow peaceful transition of power,” one of them warned.

A new city built in the street

24 Sep
Malak Shaher, Yemen Times

Sana'a University before the demonstrations

Walking in Change Square or “Sahat Al-Tagheer” in Arabic, the tents suggest dwellers plan to reside there for unknown time.  Protesting in Change Square and living under tents made of fabric are now old fashion. So the new comers from Sana’a and other cities, who want to join the protesters, prefer to “build rooms” that are somewhat similar to the older tents. Old tents are thus supported by cement bricks and wood in order to make them stronger in the face of blowing winds.
The bricks too serve a purpose: to prevent the rain from ruining the inside of these makeshift homes.As each day passes, a new a room is prepared or an old tent is supported with bricks.  Whenever people in Yemen talk about the square, they say the protesters are in however the reality is somewhat different. They now live in actual rooms. This trend of building sturdier tents started three months ago as the rainy season approached. The rains start in June in Yemen.

The tents or the rooms are furnished enough for the protesters to live inside them. Some of the rooms are occupied by seven or eight people whereas the maximum seen is twenty, depending on the size of the dwelling.

The dwellers of the tents have been calling for the president to step down since last February. As time passes, people from other cities have been encouraged to make their voices heard and have arrived to Change Square. The square is located in front of Sana’a University. There are those who not to only call the president to step down but are present for they have cases against the state that need to be addressed and solved, according to Mohammad Al-Shara’bi. Al-shara’bi is a protester who has been living in the square since February. He is also an activist and a freelance journalist.

“Some of the demonstraters in the Change Square have cases that have not been dealt with, cases with the state and they maintain they will not leave before a closure to their issues occurs. Not even if the president steps down,” said Al-Shara’bi.

Al-Shara’bi used to live in a tent before June. However, after his tent could not withstand the effects of wind and rain, he and the others in the same tent surrounded their tent with blocks and wood. This cost them 10,000 YR (nearly USD 50).  His tent is cheap compared to the new trendier ones seen in Change Square.

 “The small fabric tents did not stand a chance against the rain and the wind and we had to find way,” said Al-Shara’bi.

Hisham Ahmad, 21, a freelance journalist from the city of Ibb came last month to join the demonstraters. He established his own tent, as he calls it, with the help of seven others. Their tent is in Al-Adel Street and it cost 50,000 YR or USD 250. The average salary in Yemen is USD 200.

This is no average tent. Inside one finds a desktop where he writes news. Ahmad said that he will not leave his room on the street even if the president steps because he and “the demonstrators have other demands like establishing a civil state”.

The square resembles an independent city in which some protesters have never left their spot for months. More than 45,000 meals are distributed every day, according to Al-Shara’bi.

 “These meals are provided by the organizing committee of the protests. It is funded by traders and Sheiks [tribal leaders] who have joined the protesters,” he said.

“I have been there since last February and I do not want to leave the place,” he said.

There are hundreds of people do not live in actual houses and three public toilets have been built for the protesters. They also use bathrooms in the nearby mosques, according to Al-Shara’bi.

With new rooms built in the middle of the streets problems have risen for nearby residents. “I have to walk through the narrow streets and pass by tents until I reach the nearest bus,” said Mohammad Ali who lives near Change Square in Al-Dairy street.

“No more buses or cars can cross that street as it becomes a resident area for the protesters. If I have heavy stuff, I can no longer depend on a taxi. I just carry it myself with the help of my brother.”

The demonstrators, who have been trying to overthrow the regime for seven months, have become a “thorn in the neck” especially for the female students, according Hanan Sa’eed.

“My mother prevented me from going to University because the bus routes have changed. I now have to walk among the tents until I reach the university”.

Nafe’ Al-Musa’di , a male student from the Faculty of Languages, commented on the situation saying he and the other students “would better not go to the University until the current situation in Yemen is settled”.

UN releases report on Yemen human rights violations

21 Sep


By: Malak Shaher 

Yemen Times

SANA’A, Sept. 14 – With the increase of water prices and the shortage of power and cooking gas, a recent report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mentioned that the deteriorating situation in Yemen is affecting its population, especially children, IDPs and refugees.

 The report was made by a delegation that visited Yemen from June 28th to July 6th to assess the human right situation in Yemen.  It met with consultants and representatives from the Government and civil society in Sana’a, Aden and Taiz governorates.

According to the report, at least 63 children were reported killed in violence surrounding protests in Yemen before July 6th. Other children at the age of 15 were involved in the violence as they were seen in uniforms patrolling in the streets serving with both the government and the defected 1st Armored Brigade. 

The delegation also met with children orphaned after their parents were killed in protest violence “Some of whom witnessed firsthand scenes of extreme violence. Moreover, as education also began to suffer, children cannot go to schools as their schools are fields of war or places lived by IDPs,” said the report. 

The report, which was released Tuesday, said Yemen now suffers from violations of human rights such as the isolated acts of sabotage and violence against unarmed protesters leaving hundreds killed and thousands injured.

Violence against protesters was used to suppress demonstrations and marches. In two different incidents in Sana’a and Taiz more than one hundred were killed.

One of the incidents mentioned in the report was the death Dr. Gyab Ali Al-Saadi, the son of a leading member of the Southern movement. He was reportedly targeted and shot in the chest in Aden on 24 June as he was attempting to persuade soldiers not to fire on participants in the funeral of Mr. Ahmed Al-Darwish.

The sites visited by the delegation included locations of demonstrations, places where violence had occurred, hospitals and places of detention. In addition, the mission reviewed a large number of human rights documentation, including over 6,000 pages of documents, 160 compact discs, 6,000 photographs, and 1,800 videos.

Outside of the excessive force used against unarmed protesters by security forces, violence against protesters involved, “A different combinations of pro-and anti- government protesters, armed tribesmen and armed Islamists,” according to the report.

Other human rights violations included arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment for detainees.  The sources for these violations were the relatives’ victims.

Schools closed

The deteriorating situation in Yemen could affect education as well. Schools and Universities were closed, especially in the areas nearby conflicts such as Sana’a University, Arhab University and other schools in Aden, Taiz and Abyan. Many schools in Aden are now occupied IDP’s from Abyan who fled their homes after fighting between the Yemeni military and jihadists.

Some of the students were said to have abandoned their schools as they took part in demonstrations for and against the regime. 

Women attacked

According to the report, women took part in demonstrations for and against the regime. It mentioned that “women activists and journalists were harassed, threatened, and arrested”.

 In addition, some women were subjected to verbal harassment and beatings in public places/sit-ins for their participation in either pro or anti-government protests.  Their male relatives received phone calls asking them to “control” their daughters or sisters. In a conservative country like Yemen, women’s reputation is important for the family.

On 14 April, President Ali Abdullah Saleh spoke out against the mixing of unrelated men and women in protest squares, a statement that caused thousands of women to go out in demonstrations calling on him to retract his statement.

 Some families prevented their women to participate in demonstrations as their “reputation” was defamed, said Amira Saleh, an activist in the Freedom Square.

 Marginalized people are suffering

“African migrants, called Al-Akhdan or servants in Yemen, were also affected by the current situation.” 

According to information received by the delegations, members of this community in Taiz were threatened with destruction of their homes and businesses if they did not participate in demonstrations.

Two boys from this community, a 17 year old and a 14 year old, were reportedly attacked and severely beaten, allegedly because their families supported the government. Two men and another boy from the community were allegedly abducted and beaten with electric cables.

Not the Yemen I left behind

21 Sep

By: Malak Shaher

Yemen Times 

Just a few days before I came back to Yemen after spending five months in Pittsburgh, USA, people have been telling me of the reverse cultural shock that would happen to me when I would come back. I never believed in that because when I was there, I have never done anything against my principles and religion.

So I came back and the so-called reverse cultural shock never happened. But my situation was different and the shock that happened to me had nothing to do with culture. I was in a shock to see the destruction and the deteriorating situation of my country.

Before I describe what happened to me when I came back home, I would describe my life outside Yemen. My life was easy and sweet there.

Nevertheless, I was promoting Yemen in the US. Many people have changed their ideas about Yemen as they had never met any Yemeni before. Some even said that they would like to visit Yemen soon and get to know it more. The easy life there was not able to make me forget my county and I have never wanted to live the easy life. I was homesick and I assumed I would come back and find the same Yemen I have left behind in March. So, as September was approaching, my fellowship was coming to an end.

I arrived home last week. On the way from the airport to my house, I passed by Al-Hasaba. The building of the Yemen airways, Yemenia, was the first notable thing from a distance. The glassy building which once reflected the shiny sun has become now a black skeleton. I still remember when I was telling my friends that this was the only modern building that we could be proud of. I have learned that a great deal of people have not come back to their houses in the aftermath. What can they do with houses cover by random pock marks of bullets and another possible war.

 Six months ago, when I saw the Change Square in front of Sana’a University, the place was not packed with tents and people. The number of the tents there did not exceed fifty and traffic moved freely through the area.

But now I found out that a line of tents stretches until the old University of Sana’a which means more than five kilometers long, not to mention the small branches of this line along the smaller surface roads. Whenever I turned my head I found a pile of garbage not to mention qat spit. The smell is not pleasant and no means of transportation can be found there. Qat is the stimulant green leaves Yemenis like to chew in the afternoon.

After raining, the place is even worse as the water makes a paste spread on the ground. While I was trying to find my way to the nearest bus, I could not be more careful as I did not want to step on the disgusting green qat paste.

For someone who spent five months in the US, this was by no means a real shock. Sometimes while walking there, I would have flashes from Pittsburgh and I would become choked up, unable even to talk to the person walking with me.

Last week, I was walking with my brother when I saw a row of four soldiers chewing qat. As they were sitting in the sidewalk and throwing the qat leaves, a street cleaner was sweeping the leaves from the ground. They did not even stop whole he was cleaning and after he finished sweeping, the leaves were still there. I felt pity for him.

During my five months in the US, I never saw anyone throwing anything into the street. But here, people spontaneously throw whatever they do not want on the ground and when you tell them that it is their duty to keep the street clean, they would simply point to the street cleaners.

I was in a shock not because of the huge difference between Pittsburgh and Sana’a but because my country does not look as beautiful as it was in the past. I do not dream of Sana’a to be like Pittsburgh but I just want to see the Yemen I left behind.

Photo by Ali Saeed

Ten-year-old Osama Hadi, standing in his family’s destroyed house late in May. The house which was in Al-Hasaba district was among the houses that were affected by the war between Al-Ahmar, a prominent family in Hashid tribal confederation, and the regime security forces.

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Local Muslims reflect on the decade since Sept. 11, 2001

4 Sep
Sunday, September 04, 2011
By Malak Shaher, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette
Imam Abdusemih Tadese, left, with the Rev. Daniel Valentine late last month at the Humanity Day event at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh

Ten years ago, his Islamic faith was not a problem for Clifton Omar Slater.

Then came the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Somerset County.

“We prayed for the dead, Muslims and Christians. But people keep forgetting that we were victims too,” said Mr. Clifton, 66.

Mr. Clifton is on the executive board of the Council of American Islamic Relations, Pittsburgh chapter, and a retired environmental scientist.

“What happened to me as a Muslim… I was humiliated and the people in my community became afraid.” He said some returned to their home countries, “but we as Muslims here, our jobs began to suffer, business was boycotted and people began to look for what we were doing,” he said. “Many of the defense contractors [who were] Muslims had their security clearances lowered. Their loyalty was questioned.

“I felt my religion and its principles were under attack.”

It was painful to learn that some Muslims working in government jobs were not allowed to work until they went through new background investigations, he said. A notable local case was that of Moniem El-Ganayni, a Muslim nuclear physicist who lost his battle with the Department of Energy to get back his security clearance and his job at the Bettis Laboratory in West Mifflin.

Ordinary citizens also encountered ugly incidents after the Sept. 11 attacks, said Mr. Slater.

A Muslim American who did not want her name used said that she faced at least three instances of discrimination since 9/11. She wears a hijab and thus is recognizable as a Muslim.

“I was walking on Negley [Avenue] last summer when a man in his early 30s stopped the car and shouted out loudly, ‘Get out of our country!'” said the woman.

Another day she was walking along Fifth Avenue when a man stopped his car suddenly and honked his horn. “I looked at the car and he gave me the middle-finger.”

Many Muslims approached for this article were uncomfortable speaking on the record about their experiences. The Post-Gazette distributed an informal questionnaire to people attending an event at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, and the responses included several descriptions of discriminatory incidents, including garbage piled in front of a Muslim’s house, a workplace that prevented Muslims from praying at work and reports of being accused of terrorism.

Some of the incidents reported did not happen in Pittsburgh, and one of the comments on the questionnaire was that the interfaith events in Pittsburgh helped create understanding.

“Contrary to other places in the U.S, Pittsburgh is actually the most moderate section, thanks to many interfaith activities,” commented Ahmed Abdelwahab of Forest Hills, president of the board of trustees of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Clifton agreed that Pittsburgh has worked at interfaith relations. He said that lawyers specializing in immigration came to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh offering pro bono representation for Muslims caught up in the “special registration” program that required thousands of Arab and Muslim men to register with immigration authorities after the attacks.

“Many of [the lawyers] were Jews,” he said.

During an open house a week after Sept. 11, 2001, at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh nearly 1,000 packed the Oakland facility. Alia Hallab of Shadyside, who was Christian at the time, said she went to learn about Islam.

Mrs. Hallab did not know any Muslims at the time, but three years after that first open house she converted. So did her sister.

Karen Hussaini of Avalon recalled that a coworker told her that he was surprised to learn that she was of the Islamic faith as she “did not look like a Muslim.”

“I asked him how a Muslim looks like and he said he did not know,” she said.

Mrs. Hussaini is the widow of Farooq Hussaini, who organized the first Humanity Day at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in 1994. She was assisting him in his outreach efforts and after he died she continued his work of trying to give other people an understanding of Islam, including speaking at interfaith events.

People have responded very positively to her talks, she said.

“The problem was that their first contact with Islam was 9/11.”